In the year 2000, Helena Norberg-Hodge published a book which has been read all around the world. With the significant title “Ancient Futures”, it recounts her experience and eyewitness accounts as a Westerner who lived for more than twenty years in that strip of land at the foot of the Himalayas called Ladakh.
In the first years of her stay, this region still lived according to millennial rhythms that ensured its inhabitants a dignified, even if spartan, life. Life was marked by agricultural activities and the crops provided subsistence, community, redistribution and a chance to barter with neighbouring communities. With the arrival of globalization, even in this remote strip of land, not only has this life been upset but replaced with a less sustainable one.
In 2011 Helena co-directed and co-produced a documentary entitled “The Economics of Happiness“, which was a huge international success. The award-winning documentary is a close and well-documented critique of the effects globalization has been having on our world. Helena was part of a pool of experts appointed by the king of Bhutan with the goal to study and implement an economic system alternative to that proposed by Western democracies.
Instead of gauging the GDP – the Gross Domestic Product – this new economic system will take into consideration the IPH, the Internal Product of Happiness and well-being of all citizens.
Much criticism on the effects of globalization is due to the experiences of scholars such as Helena Norberg-Hodge, a Swedish economist, analyst and linguist, who spent 35 years in the Himalayan region of Ladakh. At the end of 1970s, Western economy reached these remote areas in the Himalayas, through a long period of time, the Swedish scholar was able to witness with her own eyes, the transformation of an isolated rural society, totally and happily sustainable, becoming unsustainable once it came into contact with globalisation. The impact of the West on these communities was such that it led the Swedisch scholar to question herself and the assumptions of Western economic system that she took for granted.
She also began questioning the Western approach of globalization to distant communities.
In the course of this transformation Helena could not fail to notice how it actually had a negative effect on communities that lost their cultural identities, their traditional forms of livelihood, and sadly enough, lost the younger generations. Infact, under the extremely captivating influence of the material goods that could be obtained once embraced a Western education and a way of life totally different from that of their communities, young people began to look at themselves, their communities, their way of life through the eyes of Westerners and all of a sudden what was a happy simple sustainable way of life had become poor and deprived of comfort, without any material goods and without money.
Over time, even these young people had to admit that it was an illusion: material well-being did not come for everyone but only for a few. Besides, drugs were totally absent in traditional communities but widely available in the westernized world, drugs left a trail of victims behind them, devastating generations of youth.
There is no doubt that globalization has been and continues to be, an extremely successful economic system, but what is globalization?
The definition in the dictionary says “a universal system where goods and finance can move easily without rules” but when did all this start. We could consider it a new form of colonization, if 500 years ago European ships colonized and enslaved most of the world, today this happens through the debt policy often disguised in the form of development aid for the countries of the non-industrialized world.
But what are the inconvenient truths of globalization?
Mental illness is certainly a visible effect bound to increase, depression has become endemic in England and in some parts of the United States, also in Australia due to the prolonged drought over the last decade. Consumerism has affected the natural resources of the planet, nevertheless, it continues to be tirelessly promoted by globalization, it produces an amount of garbage that cities do not know how to manage. In poor countries the exodus from the countryside to the cities continues inexorably, increasing poverty instead of decreasing it.
Globalization triggers climate change with its system of transporting goods from distant countries to consumers. Rich countries export the same amount of each product as they import. At all times, our planet is crossed by products that depart from one country to reach another. It is perfectly normal for a European country to produce butter in enough quantity to export and import the same quantity, the same for meat, milk, etc.
Since globalization encourages life in cities, the first to lose their jobs are small farmers in the countryside who thus become unskilled, doing precarious labour at the service of industries. The loss of the land, of their way of supporting themselves, has led tens of hundreds of thousands of Indian peasants to kill themselves, the same has been happening for some decades in Australia, in Europe, in the United States despite being a silent reality.
The companies that pollute can trade only because they benefit from State subsidies, and without them they could not exist in the free market to which they refer continuously.
The big polluters are those who want globalization, who demand not to pay taxes, who demand not to pay duties for the exchange of goods, who compete unfairly, thanks to this tax exemption, to local producers that instead pay them. These large polluting industries can exist only thanks to the continuous support of the State, preventing States from helping small businesses, artisans, small entrepreneurs, small farmers, who are instead forced to pay the taxes that corporations do not pay, who are instead forced to face the discomfort of climate change, the discomfort of pollution, of the garbage produced in industrial quantities by urbanization and by polluting companies.
Exactly for what I said above, the solution that many support is the localization against globalization, which entails the abolition of the tax breaks now enjoyed by the giants of finance and economics. Localisation means reducing dependence on imported products and instead relying more on internal production, measures that are declared as isolationist, protectionist because they protect internal markets. Governments will have to stop giving most of their support to big corporations and turn the money around.
The large food corporations claim that in a world becoming more and more populated, the food industry is the only one that can meet the needs of a growing population. But the reality is that the small producer has on his side a flexibility that is impossible for the big corporation. Above all, the small producer employs more manpower because the small farmer is not mechanized like the big industry which, instead, with its need to save on labor, uses machinery. Moreover, just a few know it, but actually the small farmer is able to produce many more vegetables per square meter than the bigger industrial farmers.
The fertility of the soil is greater because fertilizers and herbicides are not used in industrial quantities as the large producer is forced to do. The biodiversity in small plots is greater, they are not cultivated in monocultures as in the agricultural industry. The productivity ratio is 3, 4,
even 5 times higher. Energy sources also work better if they are decentralized and located, in this way they are able to meet the required energy amount. The British Transition towns movement has been described as the fastest experiment in terms of local economy to implement. So far it has spread from the UK to Europe, to the US and Australia.
The author, Fiorella Carollo, is an Orientalist, specifically Nipponist, with a background in Anthropology, scholar of feminist thought and women’s cinema.
She has lived in Venice, London, Tokyo, Melbourne, Bali and Rome.
In 2009, with the contribution of the Venice City Council, she published the collection of reviews “New heroines at the cinema. Twenty years of cinema declined for women ”.
In 2014/15, two crowdfunding campaigns finance her project aiming to give voice and visibility to women who are changing the world in Asia by reports, interviews and articles published by The Bali Times.
In 2019 she described the overwhelming emergence of the climate issue in the book “Extinction Rebellion e la rivoluzione climatica”.
Source: “The Economics of Happiness” – 2011.
Cover photo by Anja Light for Local Futures – licensed under Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0.